HC Deb 09 August 1869 vol 198 cc1489-90

said, in the absence of his ton. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) and at his request, he would beg leave to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty, If any further steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government to punish the officers of the Admiralty departments who are officially accused of having been engaged in an extensive system of corruption both at Somerset House and at the Dockyards, with a view to the complete exoneration of those gentlemen upon whom no such imputation rests; if any representations have been made by the officers at Somerset House to the Admiralty on the subject; and, if there will be any objection to lay the Correspondence upon the Table of the House?


In reply, Sir, to my noble Friend I have to state that the words of his Question do not accurately represent what was said in this House by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. My hon. Friend stated that there had been corruption both at Somerset House and at the dockyards in connection with certain contracts, as there had notoriously been in public companies; that he hoped the country would set its face against these transactions; and that it had been his and his Colleagues' endeavour to detect and punish these practices. But my hon. Friend did not either name or point at individuals whom it was possible to prosecute, and so exonerate others. Answering, then, the second Question first, I may say that a letter was addressed to the Admiralty by some of the clerks in Somerset House on this subject. It was in our power to decline to account outside the House of Commons, and especially to subordinates, for words spoken in Parliament; but we thought that, under the circumstances, it was better to make an exception to the rule, and a reply was given to these gentlemen very much to the effect of the answer which I shall presently make to the first Question, and I believe that it has been satisfactory to them. But, as the words complained of were spoken in Parliament, and as I am giving the explanation in the same place, I think it would be inexpedient to publish the letters. I beg, then, to say, in reply to the first Ques- tion, that my hon. Friend and his Colleagues would much regret that anything said by him should be misunderstood, and especially that he should be thought by the House to cast unmerited reflection on any officers of the Department whose honour I—and I am sure he —feel it my duty to protect. But there is no doubt that corruption did for some time exist in connection with naval stores; and the papers found on Mr. Rumbold and Mr. Gambier, and information received before and since, leave it beyond a doubt that the particular offence for which they were punished was not an isolated one. I would further say that it must be evident to everyone that these matters are not easy to detect, as both the giver and the receiver are, or imagine themselves, interested in complete secresy, and there is usually no one else privy to the transaction. But I have no hesitation in adding that the great body of the service, and of the branches especially referred to, even while these transactions were going on, was entirely free from the slightest taint of dishonesty, and that should occasion arise for their assistance in detecting and punishing any case which we may hereafter be able to follow up we should unhesitatingly appeal to them for it. Beyond that I decline to give any promise, and I hope that the House will give us credit for determination to do what is, in our opinion, for the public benefit in this matter, and will trust us as to the best means of carrying out this end.